Since its inception the European Grand Prix has been a constant reoccurrence in Formula One and one which has found many berths.
Therefore it is unsurprising that the location of the race in this edition of Memory Lane is the Nurburgring – a track which would host the event no less than 12 times on the GP-Strecke layout and 4 times on the Nordschleife.
Following the cancellation of the proposed New York Grand Prix and the ineligibility of Brands Hatch, the penultimate round of the 1984 World Championship saw the debut of the brand new Nurburgring, set in the shadow of its notorious namesake.
This brand new circuit had received a multi-million Deutschmark investment and boasted top class facilities which would allow it to cater for an estimated 175,000 spectators.
Of course the obvious news story heading in to the event,was Niki Lauda’s return to race at same the location of his horrific accident in 1976 – albeit now on a much safer and shorter layout. The Austrian headed to the Eiffel Mountains with a 9.5 point lead over McLaren team-mate Alain Prost, with the Frenchman fully aware that victory was vital to prevent the Austrian claiming his third title.
This Grand Prix would also see the return of Ayrton Senna, following his one-race suspension from the Toleman team which marked the first major controversy of the Brazilian’s illustrious career.
Following the Dutch Grand Prix, Toleman was shocked to discover that Senna had signed a deal to jump ship to Lotus for the following year. This was despite the fact that the Brazilian, who had exceeded all expectations in his first season in Formula One, still had 2 years remaining on his current contract and had completely ignored the buy-out clauses in the arrangement which stipulated that any team interested had to cash in on the driver, prior to opening negotiations.
For the race Toleman had brought a number of upgrades to its car, as had Ferrari, and Brabham and Williams who had brought new chassis for Jacques Laffitte and Nelson Piquet respectively.
If the raft of new upgrades weren’t enough for the teams to contend with, Friday proved problematic, with a number of drivers encountering mechanical issues as the qualifying session opened. These included Lauda, who was plagued by a gearbox oil seal failure.
However these issues were compounded a few minutes into the session when rain began to fall heavily – preventing those who weren’t on track from setting a quick time. Fortunately this had not been the case for Piquet, with the reigning world champion setting a time of 1m 18.871 in the first minutes which would not be bettered by anyone.
Eventually the rain would eventually subside with 10 minutes to go and a dry line started to form. Nevertheless this did not prevent the circuit from remaining treacherous, not to mention the huge issue of traffic as the drivers attempted to set a competitive time. Undeterred by all this however would be Alain Prost and Patrick Tambay (Renault), who both magnificently found gaps in the road to set the 2nd and 3rd fastest times and lap within a second of Piquet’s early benchmark.
Lauda on the other hand wasn’t as fortunate and could only manage 15th in the session; the Austrian hoping for improved conditions the next day.
However, if Friday wasn’t bad enough, the next day proved to be a complete wash out, with drivers only managing wet running. Therefore the grid was set for Sunday’s race, with Prost in an ideal position to capitalise and Lauda with a mountain to climb.
Race day would be dry and from the onset Lauda meant business, setting the fastest time in the morning warm up. This was in stark contrast to his team-mate, who spun off at the final Romer Corner and collided with a stationary Volkswagen safety car. As a result, Prost’s mechanics were forced to work feverously prior to the start to replace the rear suspension and body work of his car.
As the cars lined up on the grid, Nelson Piquet was in prime position to give BMW a much-craved victory on home soil. However, the Brazilian bogged down off the line and was immediately gobbled up by Prost and Tambay who screamed down to the Castrol S battling for the lead. Elsewhere Keke Rosberg, who had started from fourth, dropped far down the field as his Williams Honda encountered engine problems. Consequently, as the cars screeched to the first corner, Senna, who was being boxed in by Cheever’s Alfa Romeo found himself with nowhere to go and crashed straight into the back of Rosberg, riding up over his left rear wheel and sending both into the gravel and out of the race.
However the drama did not end there at turn 1, with Gerhard Berger’s ATS spinning into Marc Surer’s Arrows and Piercarlo Ghinzani (Osella) collecting Teo Fabi’s Brabham. All were eliminated on the spot apart from Fabi, who would be illegally towed back on to the track by a rescue vehicle.
Back at the front and Prost found himself a second ahead of Tambay after one lap, with Piquet third, the second Renault of Derek Warwick fourth and Michele Alboreto fifth for Ferrari.
Meanwhile Lauda had capitalised on the opening madness to move up to ninth and immediately set his sights on clawing his way back up the order. After successfully disposing of the Alfa duo of Patrese and Cheever, the Austrian forced his way past Arnoux’s Ferrari and by lap 5 was catching Warwick and Alboreto duelling for fourth.
By lap 22 Prost was still pulling away by around half a second a lap at the front, while the Warwick-Alboreto-Lauda train came across Gartner (Osella) and Baldi (Spirit). Whilst Warwick found his way past successfully, Lauda tried to follow Alboreto past the latter at the Veedol Chichane only for the door to be closed, sending him into a full 360-degree spin. Although he managed to keep the engine running and retained his 6th position, Lauda’s chances of finishing on the podium were now slim.
At the front and with the chance of victory ever slim, Tambay was running in a respectable second place. That was until around lap 44, however, when his Renault engine began misfiring – forcing him to fall down the order and into eventual retirement 4 laps later. Remarkably Warwick’s Sister Renault also began to experience mechanical issues and began to slow. Although the Englishman fought bravely against a catching Lauda, he could not prevent the left hand exhaust system on his RE50 from finally giving way on lap 55 and allowing the Austrian through to 4th.
In the meantime Prost was unabated at the front and duly crossed the line for his sixth victory of the year. Yet there was drama behind the jubilant Frenchman, with Piquet and Alboreto battling it out for second place. Both men had been trading laptimes in the latter stages of the race and remarkably set an identical fastest lap on the 62nd tour (1m23.146). However, as both men were in the middle of their final lap, Piquet’s Brabham started to slow as it ran out of fuel. This allowed Alboreto through, but the spectacle did not end there when, on the final straight, the Italian’s Ferrari also began to splutter – forcing both men to weave and coast over the line.
Around 20 seconds down the road came Lauda, following an eventful recovery drive, with Arnoux fifth and Patrese securing the last point – despite being a lap down.
The result had a huge bearing on the world championship, as Prost’s victory meant that it would now be decided at the last round of the series in Portugal. Lauda’s lead was now only 4.5 points, but this would be a point less a few days later when FISA ratified Tyrrell’s disqualification from the championship, after the team was exploited for technical infringements earlier in Detroit.
Although the race would prove to be far from a classic, it would be the best possible result for Prost, even though his best efforts would be in vain two weeks later.
The 1984 European Grand Prix
Date: 7 October
1. A. Prost (McLaren)
2. M. Alboreto (Ferrari)
3. N. Piquet (Brabham)
4. N.Lauda (McLaren)
5. R. Arnoux (Ferrari)
6. R. Patrese (Alfa Romeo)
+ 1 Lap
7. A. de Cesaris (Ligier)
+ 2 Laps
8. M. Baldi (Spirit)
+ 2 Laps
9. T. Boutsen (Arrows)
+ 3 Laps
10. F. Hesnault (Ligier)
+ 3 Laps
11. D. Warwick (Renault)
+ 6 Laps
Ret. J. Gartner (Osella)
Ret. T. Fabi (Brabham)
Ret. N. Mansell (Lotus)
Ret. P. Tambay (Renault)
Ret. E. Cheever (Alfa Romeo)
Ret. P. Alliot (RAM)
Ret. J. Palmer (RAM)
Ret. J. Laffite (Williams)
Ret. E. de Angelis (Lotus)
Ret. S. Johansson (Toleman)
Ret. K. Rosberg (Williams)
Ret. A. Senna (Toleman)
Ret. M. Surer (Arrows)
Ret. G. Berger (ATS)
Ret. P. Ghinzani (Osella)
Lang. M, Grand Prix Vol. 4 (Haynes 1992)
Roebuck. N, Inside Formula 1 (Patrick Stephens, 1989)
FIA 1984 World Championship VHS (Duke Video, 1984)